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Anniken Hoel • Director

“When we started getting threats, we knew that we were looking in the right areas”


- We chatted to Norwegian director Anniken Hoel, who presented her investigative documentary Cause of Death: Unknown in the Discoveries section of the Warsaw Film Festival

Anniken Hoel  • Director

Norwegian director Anniken Hoel investigates the 2005 death of her sister in Cause of Death: Unknown [+see also:
interview: Anniken Hoel
film profile
, a critical overview of the pharmaceutical industry and its alleged over-prescription of anti-psychotic drugs, which screened in the Discoveries section of the 33rd Warsaw Film Festival.

Cineuropa: This is a very personal story for you…
Anniken Hoel:
 A year after I started doing a video diary, I realised that I would not be able to move on without knowing what actually happened to my sister. I initially had no clue that this film would be about the pharmaceutical industry, though I did know for sure from the beginning that there were two planes to the story – one about her and the other about the investigation that I would lead into the cause of her death. We travelled to the USA when leaked documents revealed evidence that one company knew that their product could have sudden death as a side effect. It was one of the first leaks on WikiLeaks. There were hundreds of thousands of documents, and it took me and my producer Andrew Grant years to get through them.

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While in the USA, you received threats via email and SMS. How did you react?
When we started getting threats, we knew that we were looking in the right areas.

Although your sister died in Norway, the film is largely focused on the US pharmaceutical industry. Why?
It’s all integrated. We have more data on the situation in the USA because of their legal system that enables lawsuits, through which the documents got leaked. Though there weren’t such lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies in Europe, we know the power of the lobby and that the EU regulators conform to the wishes of the industry.

Have you subsequently had any legal problems?
No. Actually, we have the same lawyer who worked previously on [Laura Poitras’ documentary on whistleblower Edward Snowden] Citizenfour [+see also:
film profile
, who went through everything in the film. We are not worried about that.

As well as interviews, there are scenes resembling your dreams about your sister...
She is there in a black dress, seen from behind, because that is how I always saw her in my dreams – as a person whom I could not reach any more. My silhouette is there because I bring up her story and take it into the world.

The film refers to “otherwise healthy people” who died, referring to the mentally ill. Do you not believe there is something physical in the brain that caused their illness?
Mental illness is not a physical illness; there is not something in the body that indicates that you might suddenly die.

The film focuses solely on the argument against anti-psychotic drugs. Was it a conscious decision not to include independent psychiatrists who support the use of this medication?
Theirs is the story that has been told for several hundreds of years. I am not interested in repeating the narrative that has brainwashed our society, but rather in telling the other side. I think that people who are depressed need help and somebody to talk to, not pills. I think medication can be used in an acute situation of psychosis but should be tapered off as soon as possible, and monitored closely for side effects. I don’t think people should be on it long term. There is a movement in the psychiatric world to use less medication, not several different drugs at the same time, and to find other solutions to treat mental illness. The pharma industry spends millions on corrupting the medical literature available to doctors, so that when a medicine is prescribed, the side effects are not known. That's all by design.

What are your plans for future filmmaking?
I’ve started writing a new film about feminism called We Are Love. But it will be a while before it’s finished. 

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